Battle of the Bristle: Who Is Responsible For The Playoff Beard, Anyway?

June 5, 2016

It’s about that time again, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Playoff season is reaching an end and the beards are at maximum length!
But what is the origin of this distinguished ritual? Today we dig deep and get to the bottom of sport’s most manly, and down right handsome, tradition.

 

The wives are sick of seeing them, the fans can’t get enough of them, and the players themselves are too superstitious to shave them off, but does anyone really know where the illustrious “Playoff Beard” first appeared? North American audiences were first introduced to the Playoff Beard through hockey but it can be seen across most any sport these days. In fact, some of the most impressive beards aren’t even coming from the hockey world anymore. Most recently, the Boston Red Sox have put everyone to shame with some facial hair that rivals the thickest beard at any tailgate BBQ.

Mike Napoli boston red sox playoff beard

(Mike Napoli – Boston Red Sox)

Historians (ie. Wikipedia) tell us the Playoff Beard as we know it today is thanks to the New York Islanders during their 1982-1983 season victory against the Edmonton Oilers. Them good ole boys were playing four or five games in just as many days the first rounds leaving barely enough time to look at themselves in the mirror, let alone shave. Naturally, a few of the guys starting sporting some pretty aggressive whiskers and the team decided it was just something they were going to do that year. Like a team building exercise that looks more like a dare than a trust fall.     Sounds like hockey to me.

That said, there is another belief that the Playoff Beard has it’s roots planted halfway across the world in the face of Swedish tennis superstar Bjorn Borg.

bjorn borg wimbeldon 1973 beard

(Bjorn Borg – Wimbledon 1973)

Winning 5 back-to-back Grand Slam Singles at Wimbledon 1976-1980 (and DOZENS of others titles throughout his career), Bjorn Borg was notorious for his “playoff” beard. Though similar in practice to the current Game 7 Push Broom, Borg’s stubble was part of a much larger set of rituals steeped in athletic superstition. His 10-20 daily observances included little-to-no contact with anyone outside his competitors and trainers, wearing the same same Fila shirt and, of course, growing a beard. There’s no evidence, other than maybe an impressive winning streak in one of the most grueling and exhaustive sports, to suggest that these acts are anything more than obsessiveness but it hasn’t stopped folks from drawing a very thin connection between this superstar and two of the players on that 1982 New York Islander line-up.
Stefan Persson and Anders Kallur, both Swedish born, were drafted by the Islanders in the late 1970’s. Perhaps they adopted the Bjorn Borg tradition in their own superstitious attempt to edge ahead that year but maybe something a little less complicated was at play all along. Maybe rather than growing a beard to gain superpowers, they simply wanted to win so bad that everything else came secondary to that goal.

1980 ny islanders stanley cup playoff beard 3

In those final games against the Edmonton Oilers, Stefan Persson, Anders Kallur and the rest of the New York Islanders went up against a young Wayne Gretzky. Yeah, that Wayne Gretzky.
After losing the Stanley Cup to bitter rivals, he and his entire team dreaded the walk past the Islanders dressing room from their own. He knew they would be cheering, celebrating, popping bottles of champagne and living the high life. The thought of hearing that revelry after suffering the most disappointing loss in his career was too much. But! To his surprise, the change room was absolute silent when they walked past. The Islander’s had pushed so hard that they were too tired to do more than ice their knees and catch their breath. The Islanders had simply taken their game to another level. They pushed so hard and remained so focused on the goal they set for themselves that all other priorities, including shaving, fell by the wayside.

A Playoff Beard isn’t something you grow to tell everyone watching that you refuse to shave until you’ve earned the right. It’s the pesky, itchy hairs that jump up at attention when your out running laps, doing squats and training while everyone else is still in bed. It’s the fuzz that just appears one day when your studying your playbook, mentally preparing for tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that when you stop and ask yourself, when was the last time I ate? It’s the growth that keeps your game strong because when you’re focused and committed, your looks matter less than your ability.

Every Playoff Beard that mattered was thanks to shear Determination. And if simply sporting some boss bristles is all it takes for people to tap into that passionate, goal-driven mindset, it’s a wonder you don’t see more beards every season of the year.

Keep your minds sharp and your blades dull, Gentlemen!

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